Sen. Patty Murray: 'Stunning to Me' That 9 Justices Will Decide Hobby Lobby Case

By Susan Jones | March 26, 2014 | 7:27am EDT

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (AP Photo)

( "I've worked hard to make sure that women have access to the right kinds of health care, and it's their choice, not their employer's choice," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday.

"Sitting in that court today, it was stunning to me to recognize that nine people are going to make that decision -- and will decide for a long time to come -- whether women have to question when they go to work every day what the shareholders of that company's religious views could be."

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a critical religious freedom case. The court will decide whether the government may compel family-owned companies to provide employees with health insurance that covers no-cost birth control and other medical procedures that violate the owners' religious beliefs.

The plaintiffs argue that a 1993 federal law on religious freedom extends to private, for-profit businesses.

Murray said the "compelling" question for her is, "Should a private CEO of a corporation or their shareholders' religious rights trump the right of employees?"

If the court rules that private companies have the religious right to deny contraception, could that be extended to immunizations? Murray asked. "It really opens up a wide, wide range of issues that shareholders could decide about what they provide," she said.

"And secondly, the question really is: So do 51 percent of the shareholders get to vote that they don't provide contraceptive coverage? I mean, the thresholds are very interesting here, and it's going to be very difficult, I think, for this court to make those determinations on this case."

The question of religious objection to vaccinations came up several times in Tuesday's oral arguments.

Paul Clement, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he thinks the government "may have a stronger compelling interest" in requiring vaccinations as part of preventive services than it does in requiring birth control.

Donald Verrilli, Jr. -- arguing for the Obama adminstration -- agreed that the government has a "compelling interest" in advancing colorectal cancer screening and immunizations -- as well as contraception coverage. "I just think this is a compelling interest under any understanding of the term," he said.

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